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EPISCOPAL DIVINITY SCHOOL
NEWMAN'S THEORY OF DEVELOPMENT
AND ITS HISTORICAL CONTEXT
A THESIS SUBMITTED TO CERTIFY
SPECIAL COMPETENCE IN HISTORICAL THEOLOGY
FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS
MICHAEL B. JOSEPH MOLLEUR
Lloyd G. Patterson, Faculty Advisor
William Reed Huntington Professor
of Historical Theology
Fredrica Harris Thompsett, Academic Dean
Mary Wolfe Professor of Historical Theology
Robert T. Brooks
Candidate for the Degree of Master of Divinity
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. INTRODUCTION 1
2. NEWMAN'S THEORY OF DEVELOPMENT 5
The University Sermon on Developments in
The Essay on Development
3. NEWMAN'S THEORY IN ITS HISTORICAL SETTING .... 21
Roman Catholic Responses
The Intellectual Climate of Newman's Day
4. SOME PROBLEMS WITH NEWMAN'S THEORY 35
Development From What ; The Question of the
"Original Idea" of Christianity
Development To What ; The Teleological
The Question of New or Ongoing Revelation
5. FINAL OBSERVATIONS 47
In his book From Bossuet to Newman , which has been
deservedly termed a minor classic, * Owen ChadwicJc notes that
"[t]he relation of Christianity to history is seen to be
entangled with questions about the truth of Christianity,
and the various ways in which its faith is formed and
formulated." 2 Professor Chadwick proceeds to identify some
of the different ways Christian thinkers have attempted to
explain religious change ("religious change" being
essentially synonymous with "the relation of Christianity to
history"). As the title of his book indicates, Chadwick's
study ends with John Henry Newman, whose explanation of the
relation between Christianity and history, or religious
change, has been widely regarded as "the almost inevitable
starting point for an investigation of development of
doctrine. "^ This thesis will explore Newman's notion of the
development of doctrine, with attention to the historical
context in which he wrote.
Prior to the nineteenth century, no one paid much
attention to the relation between Christianity and history.
Seeming changes in Christian doctrine (for no "real" changes
were admitted) were accounted for by Bossuet as mere
translations into clearer language, in which only the
wording of a doctrine, but never the idea, changed. 4
Medieval theologians typically explained "changes" in terms
of logical deduction: if "two revealed premises may be put
together to produce a conseguence, the conseguence must be
as certain as the premises, and it can only be as certain as
the premises if it has itself the certainty of revelation." 5
Another notion which came into play was the Disciplina
Arcani , which claimed that the Church always taught what it
now teaches, only previously the teaching had been kept
secret from the public, lest the Church run the risk of
casting its pearls before trampling swine.
A heightened historical consciousness was one of the
primary intellectual shifts which distinguished the thought
of the nineteenth century from that of previous ages. This
shift helped give rise to the greatest theological problem
of the nineteenth-century: "the problem of the relation
between Christian certainty and the inevitable failure of
historical inguiry ever to produce results which are more
than probable results." 7 It is within this background and
context that, in the 1840' s, John Henry Newman attempted to
articulate his own understanding of the relation between
Christianity and history. He did so by means of his "theory
of the development of doctrine," which he offered as "an
expedient to enable us to solve what has now become a
necessary and an anxious problem."** The new problem was the
truth of Christianity in the light of historical criticism.
In 1853 Robert Wilberforce read Newman's Essay on the
Development of Christian Doctrine / which had been published
eight years previously. Wilberforce then wrote to Newman,
requesting further clarification of his "theory of
development." Newman responded as follows:
. . . [T]he Holy Ghost, saw, that one truth must sink
into the mind , i.e. be developed, before another? e.g.
first the being of God (against Gnosticism etc.) then
the Divinity of the Son (against Arianism), then the
Incarnation etc. etc. — not as if the truths were not
given from the first , but they had to be worked out
historically over long periods, in order to be realized
in the hearts of the millions and of the teaching body
In this response to Wilberforce we have perhaps the most
succinct statement of Newman's understanding of doctrinal
development. Christian truths have to be worked out
historically , over long periods. But whether or not
Newman's theory will allow him to maintain, as he does
emphatically in the above quotation, that those truths were
"given from the first" (in a once-and-f or-all, final
revelation of God in Christ, entrusted to the apostles) is a
question that will require careful examination.
The next chapter of this thesis will analyze Newman's
two primary works dealing with doctrinal development: his
1843 university sermon "The Theory of Developments in
Religious Doctrine" and the 1845 Essay on the Development of
Christian Doctrine . When he preached the former, which was
the last of his Oxford University sermons, Newman was
already questioning his membership in the Church of
England. By the time he published the latter, he had taken
the first steps toward reception into the Roman Catholic
The third chapter will discuss the responses, both
Roman Catholic and Anglican, which the Essay on Development
provoked, as well as the degree to which both Newman and his
"theory" fit in with the prevailing intellectual climate of
the mid-nineteenth century.
Chapter Four will consider three problems or questions
which arise from the study of Newman's theory. The first
concerns Newman's notion of the "original idea" of
Christianity; the second probes the teleological
implications of the theory; and the third deals with the
particularly thorny issue, already noted above, of whether
Newman's theory demands a corresponding notion of continuous
In the fifth chapter some concluding observations will
be made concerning Newman and his "theory of the development
NEWMAN'S THEORY OF DEVELOPMENT
Nicholas Lash points out that some commentators, "in
their search for Newman's 'theory' of development, devote
the greater part of their analysis to the sermon rather than
to the Essay . " * Lash suggests that the reason some prefer
the sermon over the Essay might be the closeness with which
Newman, in the sermon, presses the analogy between the
development of an idea within a society, and the development
of an idea in the mind of an individual. I suspect there
is a far more general explanation for the appeal of the
sermon. It contains, within the space of 40 short pages,
many of the essential elements that would later figure in
the 445-page Essay . 3 since Newman wrote the sermon less
than two years before he began work on the Essay , the sermon
can be viewed as his precis for the longer and much more
complex Essay which followed. It is not the intention, in
this thesis, to devote the greater part of the analysis to
the sermon. However, the value of the sermon as a
preliminary study of Newman's understanding of doctrinal
development is considerable. The sermon will therefore be
given some attention before proceeding to the Essay .
The University Sermon on Developments
in Religious Doctrine
"The Theory of Developments in Religious Doctrine" was
the title of the fifteenth (and final) of Newman's Oxford
University sermons. He preached the sermon on the Feast of
the Purification in the year 1843, at a time when he was
experiencing grave doubts as to whether he could remain in
the Church of England, but before he had decided to join the
Roman Catholic Church. He took as his text Luke 2:19 — "But
Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart."
Mary, Newman suggests, is a type or icon of development. As
she "kept" and "pondered" the mystery of the Incarnation, so
the Church keeps and ponders, and thereby develops, the
doctrines of the faith.
It is important to note that Newman is not trying to
decide whether Christianity has developed; he takes it for
granted that Christianity has developed. None of the
Christian bodies of the mid-nineteenth century, whether
Roman Catholic, Anglican, or Protestant (he barely
acknowledges the existence of Eastern Orthodoxy!), was
identical to Newman's conception of the "Great Church" of
the apostolic and patristic eras. Both in terms of theology
and polity, all churches had undergone change, or
developed. "The controversy between the English Church and
the Church of Rome [therefore] lies," writes Newman in this
sermon, " in the matter of fact , whether such and such
developments are true, . . . not in the principle of
development itself." 4 He cites as an example the doctrine
of Purgatory, which Roman Catholics hold, but Anglicans
deny, to be a true development of the doctrine of post-
baptismal sin. 5 Thus, the issues which are of real interest
to Newman are how Christian doctrine develops, and how we
distinguish true developments from false ones.
The notion that Christianity begins as an idea is
central in the sermon, as it will be in the Essay .
Unfortunately, nowhere in the sermon does Newman define
exactly what he means by "idea"; but the fact that he uses
the words "idea" and "impression" interchangeably throughout
the sermon is instructive. We frequently find phrases such
as "inward impression," "religious impression," and "sacred
impression" used as synonyms for "idea."" "A mere religious
impression, and perhaps an unconscious one" is perhaps the
closest we will come, in Newman's own words, to his
understanding of "idea." 7 Newman speaks not only of ideas ,
in the plural, but also of "the great idea," "the original
idea," "the one idea" which is of the essence of
Christianity, without ever specifiying the content of that
one, great, original idea. He does say that "the human mind
cannot reflect upon that idea, except piecemeal, cannot use
it in its oneness and entireness, nor without resolving it
into a series of aspects and relations." 9 Newman thus
claims to know that there is one, great, original idea of
Christianity, despite the fact that he is unable to say, or
even to know, what that idea is. This significant weakness
in Newman's argument was to be greatly criticized by the
Anglican writers who responded to his "theory of
development," as will be seen in the next chapter.
The stages by which an idea, or religious impression,
is transformed into a doctrine is, in Newman's analysis, the
process of that idea's development. Taking as examples the
Trinity and the Incarnation, Newman outlines the following
six-step dialectic, by which the initial idea or inward
impression "develops" into a doctrine:
1. The mind naturally turns "with a devout
curiosity to the contemplation of the Object of its
adoration," in this instance either to the glory of the
Trinity or the mystery of the Incarnation.
2. The mind next "begins to form statements
concerning" the Divine reality, not knowing where these
mental formations will eventually lead it.
3 . " One proposition necessarily leads to
another , " and that to a third, etc.
4. " Some limitation is required ." Newman does
not specify what the limits are, or how they are
5. The opposites produced by the limiting process
are combined together , occasioning "fresh evolutions
from the original idea."
6. The end result is a " body of dogmatic
statements , " i.e., a series of reasoned propositions,
on the subject of either the Trinity or the
Newman concludes his analysis of this dialectic of
development by drawing our attention to the fact that what
began as "an impression on the Imagination has become a
system or creed in the Reason." 1 ^ Note that once again he
makes no distinction between an "idea in the mind" and an
"impression on the imagination."
The process of development does not end once an idea
has issued into a doctrine. Doctrines themselves give birth
to further doctrines; "one dogma creates another, by the
same right by which it was itself created. "^ Newman's
reasoning forces him to the conclusion that not all
Christian doctrines can be found in scripture, and he does
not shrink from that conclusion. He states boldly that "it
is a mistake to look for every separate proposition of the
Catholic doctrine in Scripture" ; ^ the statements of
scripture begin but do not exhaust Christian doctrine. Does
Newman's reasoning also force him into a notion of new or
ongoing revelation? New doctrine does not necessarily imply
new revelation. For example, a new doctrine concerning the
Trinity might simply mean that we now understand the
revelation about the Divine Trinity in Unity more clearly or
fully than we ever had before, without there having
necessarily been any change in the revelation itself. This
difficult issue of continuous revelation will need to be
revisited more than once in the pages to come.
To conclude this analysis of the sermon on
developments/ the question naturally arises: where does
Newman's process of development finally lead? Do ideas
continue to develop into doctrines, and doctrines into
further doctrines, ad infinitum ? Or does the process reach
a definite end point? 14 (These will also prove to be
recurring questions.) In the sermon, Newman's teleology is
contradictory. In some places he seems to say that the
process of development does come to an end, using
expressions such as a dogma's arriving at "its exact and
determinate issue," 15 and the evolution of a Christian
doctrine to the point of "whole truth." 16 In other places,
however, he implies that the process of development is
unending. One example is his contention that "the Catholic
dogmas are . . . but symbols of a Divine fact, which, far
from being compassed by those very propositions, would not
be exhausted, nor fathomed by a thousand." 1 ' Newman seems
to be saying in this latter instance that there will always
be room for improvement and growth in the realm of Christian
doctrine. Perhaps the Essay on Development , to which we now
turn our attention, will prove to contain a more conclusive
The Essay on Development
An assertion that is frequently made about Newman is
that, in the process of composing An Essay on the
Development of Christian Doctrine , he "wrote himself into"
the Roman Catholic Church. In terms of chronology, this
assertion certainly appears to be valid. When Newman began
the Essay in early 1845 he was still a priest in the Church
of England. Before he had completed the final draft, ten
months or so later, he had taken the first steps toward
reception into the Roman Catholic Church. However, this
assertion that Newman "wrote himself into" his new religious
allegiance is questionable. There is significant evidence,
which will be discussed below, that Newman had already made
up his mind about converting to Roman Catholicism, and that
the purpose of the Essay , at least in part, was to justify,
or to provide an intellectual rationale for, his conversion.
The Purpose of the Essay
In the Essay itself, Newman states that the primary
purpose of his theory of development is to offer "an
hypothesis to account for a dif f iculty . " *° The "difficulty"
is the problem of religious change generally, the problem of
change in Christianity more specifically, and, arguably, the
problem of Newman's own change of religious allegiance most
An assumption about the doctrine of Tradition which was
widely held by Roman Catholics prior to the nineteenth
century was that Christianity does not change . Its
immutability was viewed as demonstration of its truth.
Newman, a skilled and usually honest historian, knew this
common assumption to be false; the evidence of history
simply did not point to an immutable Christianity. "I
concede," writes Newman in the Essay , "that there are to be
found, during the 1800 years through which it has lasted,
certain apparent inconsistencies and alterations in its
doctrine and its worship. . . . " 19 His avowed purpose in
setting forth his theory of development is to demonstrate
that the Roman Catholicism of his own day was " in its
substance the very religion which Christ and His Apostles
taught in the first [century], whatever may be the
modifications for good or for evil" which have resulted with
the passage of time. 20 Thus Newman concedes that there have
been changes in Christian doctrine and practice, but he also
maintains that those changes do not signify any alteration
in the essence of Christianity. His theory of development
attempts to demonstrate how this can be so.
So much for Newman's avowed purpose in writing the
Essay . His other, less directly stated purpose was
apologetic — the justification of his own conversion, his own
Christian/religious change. There are some hints of this
apologetic purpose in the Essay itself. For example, at one
point Newman says that "a gradual conversion from a false to
a true religion, plainly, has much of the character of a
continuous process, or a development." Furthermore, "such a
change consists in addition and increase chiefly, not in
destruction." 21 Might Newman be here alluding to his own
"development" from the "false" religion of the Church of
England to the "true religion" of Roman Catholicism, a
change which consisted not in the "destruction" of what was
valid in Anglicanism, but rather in the "addition and
increase" of those elements (the papacy, purgatory,
transubstantiation, the cultus of Mary and the saints, etc.)
which were held by Rome but rejected by the Church of
England? Newman admits the apologetic purpose of the Essay
more directly in his autobiographical Apologia pro Vita Sua ,
where he writes: "I was engaged in writing a book ( Essay on
Development ) in favour of the Roman Church, and indirectly
[sic!] against the English. . . ," 22 Lash notes that
Newman's other autobiographical materials (letters and
diaries) likewise demonstrate that "his •object* was to 'put
before the mind a straightforward argument for joining the
Church of Rome, leaving difficulties to shift for
themselves . • "23
The reason for calling attention to this question of
Newman's purpose in writing the Essay is that, generally
speaking, the writer of apologetic is less concerned with
attention to detail and internal consistency than is the
writer of systematic theology. Newman's "theory of
development" will be shown to have more than its share of
inconsistencies, which he would indeed seem to have been
content to allow to "shift for themselves." We may more
easily forgive Newman for these inconsistencies, if we
frankly admit that his purpose in the Essay was as much to
defend his own conversion as to produce a theological
Organization of the Essay
The third edition of the Essay (1878) was Newman's
final re-working of the book. The differences between the
first two editions (1845 and 1846) were very minor; in the
third edition, however, Newman undertook a major
reorganization of the book. Substantive changes were few
and, for the most part, not significant. The order of the
contents, however, was completely rearranged. For the
purposes of this thesis the third, and now definitive,
edition of the Essay will be used. It has the advantage of
being both Newman's final word on the topic, and the most
widely available in-print edition of the book. The drawback
of using the third edition is that it is not the exact
edition of the Essay to which Newman's first generation of
Roman Catholic and Anglican critics responded. But agairv,
the substantive changes between 1845 and 1878 were few.
The third edition is divided into two major parts:
Part One is called "Doctrinal Developments Viewed in
Themselves," and Part Two, "Doctrinal Developments Viewed
Relatively to Doctrinal Corruptions." All of the
particulars of Newman's "theory of development" are laid out
in Part One. Part Two, which comprises nearly two-thirds of
the book, is concerned with the explication of what Newman
refers to as the seven "notes" by which to distinguish true
doctrinal developments from corruptions. The overwhelming
consensus of Newman scholars is that Part Two adds little of
value to Newman's project. Chadwick refers to the seven
"notes" as "'tests' which Newman half-heartedly alleged for
distinguishing true developments from false developments." 24
Lash adds that, "[i]n practice ... it is doubtful whether
Newman's tests could be effectively applied so as to ensure
that any significant impoverishment, distortion or
suppression would be detected." 25 A minority opinion is
held by Hugo Meynell, who maintains that the "notes" do
accomplish their purpose, despite the fact that Newman
himself seems to have conceded that they failed to perform
the task he had hoped they would perform. 25 Since I agree
that the seven "notes" add nothing of significance to
Newman's attempt to articulate a theory of development, the
remainder of the analysis in this section will be confined
to an examination of Part One of the Essay .
The Theory of Development
. . . [T]he increase and expansion of the Christian
Creed and Ritual, and the variations which have
attended the process in the case of individual writers
and Churches, are the necessary attendants on any
philosophy or polity which takes possession of the
intellect and heart, and has had any wide or extended
dominion; . . . from the nature of the human mind, time
is necessary for the full comprehension and perfection
of great ideas; . . . the highest and most wonderful
truths, though communicated to the world once for all
by inspired teachers, could not be comprehended all at
once by the recipients, but, as being received and
transmitted by minds not inspired and through media
which were human, have required only the longer time
and deeper thought for their full elucidation. This
may be called the Theory of Development of
Doctrine . . , 27
Here, in his own words, we have one of Newman's more
concise expositions of a central aspect of his "theory of
development." Change, growth, development, is a natural and
expected attribute of any living, healthy entity.
Christianity is such an entity. Great ideas do not enter
the human mind full-blown; they may only be grasped
gradually, over long periods of time. Christianity presents
itself to the human mind as that type of idea. This is not
to say that the truths to which those great ideas point are
not in themselves complete and entire. Father, because of
the limitations of our human minds, we are only able to take
those truths in and comprehend them a little at a time.
Christianity is such a complete, once-and-for-all truth,
despite the fact that the human minds which together
comprise the Church here on earth can only assimilate that
truth bit by bit. The many doctrines of the Church are like
so many aspects or facets of the One Great Idea which
Christianity impresses on our minds. Christian doctrine
thus grows over time, or develops, as the corporate mind of
the Church expands in its knowledge of the one, unchanging,
There is a strong temptation at this point to assert
that the above statements constitute, in summary form,
"Newman's theory of development." However, that temptation
must be resisted. As Lash has convincingly demonstrated,
Newman's "theory" does not allow itself to be so easily
summarized. He repeatedly warns "against abstracting any
particular feature," for example the lengthy quotation
above, "from the total argument of the Essay , and
identifying it alone with 'Newman's theory of
development.'" 28 The reason for this is that, when the
Essay is viewed as a whole, it becomes apparent that Newman
never does state straightforwardly one coherent theory.
Rather, what he actually generates are several "rudimentary
•theories,'" some of which can be shown to be "mutually
incompatible." 29 Furthermore, Newman's apologetic purpose
results in arguments that often tend to be more "persuasive"
and "non-demonstrative" than rigorously consistent and
logical. 30 Put another way, the Essay frequently reads more
like a sermon than a theological treatise. The sense in
which such persuasive, non-demonstrative arguments can be
held to constitute a unified theory is, as Lash rightly
maintains, "heavily qualified." 31
More specifically, Newman complicates the issue of
doctrinal development by bringing a number of "sub-theories"
into the discussion. Three examples of such sub-theories
are: the "all or nothing" theory; the theory of "antecedent
probability"; and the theory of an "infallible developing
authority" (the latter two, although not the first, are
Newman's own designations).
According to Newman, we "must accept the whole [of
Roman Catholic dogma] or reject the whole; attenuation does
but enfeeble, and amputation mutilate." 32 Here we have
examples of both the sub-theory of "all or nothing," and
Newman's use of persuasive (sermonic) rather than
demonstrative (theological) language. Roman Catholic
doctrine, in Newman's opinion, comes as a sort of "package
deal." The fact that one or some of its doctrines are true
guarantees that they all are true; they admit of no picking
and choosing. Since all the doctrines "together make up one
integral religion, it follows that . . . [all] must be
thrown into a common stock, and all are available in the
defense of any." 33 But why must this be so? How can it be
reasonably held that, for example, the truth of the doctrine
of the Incarnation guarantees the truth of the doctrine of
Transubstantiation? Or how can the doctrine of the Trinity
meaningfully be brought to the defense of the doctrine of
the Immaculate Conception? Newman's sub-theory of "all or
nothing" unnecessarily complicates the issue of doctrinal
development, without contributing anything constructive to
The second sub-theory, "antecedent probability," is, in
Newman's scheme, an argument from fittingness. The fact
that we can identify a lack or a need makes it likely, or
antecedently probable, that God will make provision for or
supply that need. Newman argues that just as, in the
visible creation, "the need and its supply are a proof of
[providential] design," just so the "gaps ... which occur
in the structure of the original creed of the Church, make
it probable that those developments, which grow out of the
truths which lie around it, were intended to fill them
up." 34 Thus in Christian doctrine as well as in the natural
order, need constitutes proof of supply; the fact that we
think it would be fitting for God to do something, is
sufficient proof that God did it or will do it.
An example of such antecedent probability can be seen
in Newman's third sub-theory, the infallible developing
authority. He maintains that, "in proportion to the
probability of true developments of doctrine and practice in
the Divine Scheme, so is the probability also of the
appointment in that scheme of an external authority to
decide upon them. . . . " 35 At one po i n t Newman locates this
infallible authority in the church, ° at other points in the
office of the papacy. 37 He further states that the
"absolute need of a spiritual supremacy is at present the
strongest of arguments in favour of the fact of its
supply." 38 Need guarantees supply. This "strongest of
arguments" is a very weak one indeed. Even if all people
agreed with Newman's subjective analysis of the situation
(that a spiritual supremacy is absolutely needed), which
they certainly do not , still, how could the human perception
of the existence of such a need possibly constitute proof
that God has or will supply that need? Is God to be bound
by our perceptions of what is lacking, and of what would
constitute a fitting supply for that lack? Such an
assertion comes perilously close to idolatry. As was the
case with the "all or nothing" theory, Newman's theories of
antecedent probability and an infallible developing
authority serve only to complicate, not clarify, the issue
of doctrinal development.
Three important questions concerning the theory of
development set forth in Newman's Essay remain to be
discussed: his notion of the "original idea" of
Christianity; the teleological implications of the theory;
and the problem of ongoing revelation. Since these
questions will be the primary focus of Chapter Four, as well
as a significant emphasis in the "Anglican Criticisms"
section of Chapter Three, nothing more will be said about
them at this point.
The issue which must now be raised is the that of the
reception of the Essay .
NEWMAN'S THEORY IN ITS HISTORICAL SETTING
According to Stephen Prickett, Newman's Essay was
"widely read and reviewed with equally varying degrees of
incomprehension. On the whole, [Roman] Catholic critics
found Newman's reasons for joining Holy Mother Church as
tortuous and eccentric as Anglicans found his reasons for
quitting the Via Media ."* Perhaps Prickett is correct in
his assertion that Newman's readers failed to comprehend his
theory of doctrinal development. It is certainly the case
that the readers of the Essay , both Roman Catholic and
Anglican, reacted with disapproval. In this chapter I will
first discuss the Roman Catholic and Anglican responses to
the Essay , and then consider the larger contextual issue of
how Newman generally, and his theory of doctrinal
development specifically, fit in with the intellectual
climate of Newman's day.
Roman Catholic Responses
Newman was an astonishing "catch" for the Roman
Catholic Church. He was a well known theological writer and
the leader of the Church of England party that was most open
to Roman Catholicism. Rome could have a reasonable
expectation of further conversions, as some of Newman's
disciples and admirers were bound follow his lead. However,
this is by no means to say that Rome extended open arms to
his theory of doctrinal development. Newman therefore found
himself in an awkward position: his person was welcomed
warmly and sympathetically by Rome, despite the fact that
they found his thought perplexing and sometimes
The prevailing Roman Catholic suspicion of Newman and
his Essay was that "the old arguments which had satisfied
for centuries did not satisfy him, that he needed to
attribute something new to the Church, a rare and peculiar
theory, before he could conscientiously join."-^ Two of the
most prominent Roman Catholic theologians in Italy at that
time were the Jesuits Passaglia and Perrone. Passaglia
proved to be a vehement and life-long critic of Newman; 4
Perrone outrightly denied his thesis concerning doctrinal
Newman received some of his harshest criticism from
Roman Catholics who were native speakers of the English
language. One example was Dr. Alexander Grant, rector of
the Scots College in Rome. After reading the Essay , Grant
came to the conclusion that Newman was guilty of "material
heresy," and he outspokenly shared this opinion with his
associates in Rome. 6 There was also the American, Orestes
Brownson, who was without doubt the most vicious of Newman's
detractors. Like Grant, Brownson was convinced that
Newman's thought was heretical. His bishop (Fitzpatrick
of Boston) concurred.' In a series of articles published in
his own journal, Brownson's Quarterly Review , Brownson did
not content himself with the attempt to disprove Newman's
theology. He attacked Newman's person as well, calling into
question Newman's character and motives.®
Clearly, the Roman Catholic Church of the 1840 's was
not ready for a theory of doctrinal development. What
Chadwick says of Perrone would appear to be true of the
Roman Catholic divinity of the day in general: he (Perrone)
"had no notion of the difficulties created for the older
form of the doctrine of tradition by modern historical
research."^ As will be shown in the final section of this
chapter, Newman was no advocate of the new "science of
history." Nevertheless, he did perceive that the old notion
of tradition, which maintains that Christianity does not
change, is untenable in the face of the evidence of history.
The Anglican response to Newman's Essay was immediate
and extensive. Writing in 1847, two years after the
publication of the Essay , J. B. Mozley noted the nine
Anglican responses which he considered to be the better
ones; 1 ^ clearly Newman did not lack for feedback from his
former confreres in the Church of England. Mozley's
response has been widely regarded as the most convincing — as
brilliant as Newman's own Essay , in the opinion of Charles
As indicated in the discussion of the sermon on
developments/ Newman did not think the issue was whether or
not Christianity has developed; he took it for granted that
Christianity, in both its Roman Catholic and Anglican
manifestations/ had developed. Mozley and F. D. Maurice
accept Newman's assumption in that regard. "The principle
of development is of course admitted," writes Mozley; "there
can be no doubt that Christianity was intended to develop
itself. It was intended to do so on the same general law on
which great principles and institutions, we may say all
things/ great or small/ do." 12 Likewise Maurice has no
doubt that Christianity develops. In his commentary on the
Epistle to the Hebrews/ which contains a review of Newman's
Essay / Maurice maintains that the essential elements of a
doctrine of development can be found in the pages of
Hebrews. 13 Therefore it is not Newman's assertion of
development that the Anglican critics question, but rather
his explanation of development.
Newman's Notion of "Corruption"
One of Mozley 's central and most convincing critiques
is his contention that Newman's understanding of corruption
is one-sided and unfairly favors the Roman Catholic Church.
In Chapter 6 of the Essay , where Newman discusses his "note"
of the "preservation of type," Mozley correctly charges that
Newman limits his definition of corruption to "the
destruction of a norm or type." 14 According to Newman's
definition, corruption only occurs when a doctrine undergoes
"positive failure and decay." 15 What Newman's definition
thereby fails to take into consideration is the possibility
of corruption by excess or exaggeration ; "corruption being
defined to be loss of type, it follows that exaggeration,
which is not this, is not corruption." 1 ^ Mozley aptly notes
that, armed with such a notion of corruption, one can quite
easily "vindicate the Roman system from all corruption," 1 ^
which of course is exactly what Newman believed he had
Examples cited by Mozley as evidence of his claim that
Rome is guilty of corruption by excess, or exaggeration of
type, include purgatory, prayers to the saints, and
transubstantiation. What the New Testament and early Church
saw as an intermediate state between death and heaven,
characterized by rest and sleep, later ages exaggerated into
a notion of purgatory as a place of torture and suffering, a
sort of "temporary hell." 1 ^ Prayers for the dead and
commemoration of the saints, a natural and expected part of
the piety of the early Church, would by later generations be
exaggerated into prayers to the saints, in which the
worshiper "asked of the saint the same things which he did
of the Almighty, in the same form." 19 As for the doctrine
of the eucharist, the early Church had a simple,
unspeculative notion of a real change; the bread and wine
were somehow, mysteriously, changed into the body and blood
of Christ. Later/ however, this idea of change was
"analyzed and pushed; it was inferred that if the bread and
wine were changed into the body and blood, they must cease
to be the substances of bread and wine." 2 In each of these
instances, Mozley argues that Roman Catholicism has
corrupted the original type of the doctrine, not through
decay or destruction of the original type, which is the only
notion of "corruption" Newman recognizes, but through
exaggeration or excess, which, insists Mozley, is every bit
as much a corruption of the original type as is decay.
The "Original Idea" of Christianity
One of the most common complaints about the Essay made
by its earliest Anglican critics was that Newman claimed
that Christianity came into the world initially as an idea,
but then was unable to state concretely the content of that
original idea. 21 Mozley's challenge is typical. He writes,
addressing Newman, "Your theory demands a real bona fide
exordium: show it. But we make the demand in vain; we try
in vain to find out what this original idea is; it nowhere
appears; we can make out nothing of it." 22 Maurice too
finds it to be a "strange contradiction" that Newman
insists, on the one hand, that knowledge of the essential
idea of Christianity "is necessary, or at all events would
be most convenient," while, on the other, he egually
strenuously maintains that this essential idea cannot be
arrived at; it "is not forthcoming." 23
Christianity, according to the Anglican critics, did
not come into the world as an idea, but rather as an
institution . Or, if Christianity did come into the world as
an idea, the apostles very quickly turned it into an
institution. This view is held by John Charles Abraham,
writing anonymously as "a Quondam Disciple." For Abraham,
the essential meaning of "Christianity" is "Christian
society"; 24 his primary point of reference is therefore
institutional. George Moberly is willing to concede that
Christianity may have come into the world as an idea, if one
means by "idea" a "mental illumination granted to the
Apostles." But the apostles in turn ordained deacons and
elders, and appointed their own successors. What they
received as an idea, therefore, they manifestly left as an
institution. 2 ^ Along these same lines, Mozley is at a loss
to understand "how Mr. Newman can get a Church at all, much
less a Papal Church, with its local centre and monarchy, out
of an 'idea. ■ " 26
Continuous Revelation ?
The early Anglican critics of the Essay were united in
their conviction that Newman's theory of development,
whether Newman acknowledged the fact or not, required a
corresponding notion of new or ongoing revelation. The
traditional view is that revelation ceased with the death of
the last apostle. William J. Irons speaks for many when he
writes that "development, terminating in a 'developing
power' [i.e., the infallible developing authority of the
papacy], must mean / in Mr. Newman's theory, ' another
Revelation / ' 'another Gospel,' — a change in the objects of
faith and knowledge." 27
Mozley contrasts two different senses of development,
one which he approves, while the other he rejects. The
first sense is development as simply an explanatory process:
"development is explanation; explanation is development." 2 **
He cites as an example of explanatory development the
theology of Nicaea — the fathers at the Council simply used
different words than had previously been used to explain, or
clarify, the revelation about God which they had inherited.
This sense of development is perfectly acceptable and to be
expected. The other sense, which Mozley holds to be
Newman's and rejects, is development which results in "a
positive increase of the substance of the thing developed" —
a new entity growing out of, but not contained in, the
original material from which the growth began. 29 Examples
of this latter concept of development are the Roman Catholic
doctrines of purgatory and papal infallibility, which
Anglicans claim are not part of the original deposit of
faith, and cannot be justified unless recourse is had to
some concept of new or ongoing revelation.
The most forceful argument concerning Newman's theory
and ongoing revelation is made by Moberly, who contends that
the theory is based on an "inadmissible hypothesis" tending
"to make the Christian system not final." 30 Moberly
believes that it is the job of the Church to apply the
revelation which it has already received to the various
situations in which it finds itself through the ages. This
notion of application implies that "the original revelation,
with its own proper institution, is scrupulously, exactly,
and faithfully (that is, without essential change or
addition) brought to bear upon those new occasions" in which
the Church of each new generation finds itself. 3 * Newman's
theory, maintains Moberly, fails so to preserve the original
Christian revelation. God has made a once-and-for-all
revelation of "Himself and His will for the salvation of the
world." Newman's theory, on the contrary, and the latter-
day Roman Catholic developments which it seeks to vindicate,
"suppose continual accessions of revealed truth" 32 — a
supposition which, for Moberly, is unacceptable.
No "Theory" at All
The other criticism of the Essay which is mentioned by
a number of its early Anglican readers is that it proves
Newman to have no single, unified theory of development
after all. For example, Mozley, viewing the Essay as a
whole, is "unable to discover that Mr. Newman has any
regular hypothesis at all"; rather, Mozley sees the Essay as
marked by "a looseness and inconsistency which seems to
break up his theory as a theory altogether." 33 Irons
likewise argues that Newman's "theory has no ideal unity
whatever. ... It is, rather, a number of theories, more
or less analogous, kept together by an ingenious writer for
a definite purpose"^ 4 --the purpose of trying to prove the
legitimacy of the later Roman Catholic developments. As
noted in the previous chapter, Lash considers these "no
•theory' at all" criticisms to be justified. ^5
It is interesting to note that these criticisms from
his former fellow churchmen seem to have had little effect
on Newman. There is evidence that he felt "much aggrieved"
by Mozley's response^ but, maintains Chadwick, there is no
evidence whatsoever that Newman made alterations in later
editions of the Essay as a result of Anglican criticisms. ^'
Prickett holds that Newman did make some changes in the
third edition of the Essay due to the response of Maurice. ^°
If this is the case, and Chadwick 's statement is a bit too
general, it nevertheless remains true that, in proportion to
the amount of energy and ink the Anglican writers put into
refuting Newman, he barely noticed their efforts, and what
he did notice he did not consider worth responding to.
The issue which now needs to be addressed is the
relation between Newman's "theory of the development of
doctrine," and the spirit of the age in which he lived and
The Intellectual Climate of Newman's Day
An alternative title for this section could well be
"Newman and the Paradox of Progress." The paradox which
confronts us as we look more closely at Newman in the
context of his historical period is that, while his "theory
of development" seems to fit very well with the progressive
spirit of his age, the man himself emphatically does not .
How do we explain the fact that a man who was in many ways
anti-modern and anti-liberal, and who did not believe in
"progress," produced a theory that seems to harmonize well
with the liberal, modern, progress-oriented notions of
thinkers such as Hegel and Darwin? This section will be
concerned primarily with the attempt to solve, or at least
to account for, that paradox.
In its day, Newman's theory of development sounded
strikingly "modern," perhaps even "modernist." 39 The first
generation of Newman's Anglican critics could not help but
notice this fact. Mozley charged Newman with asserting an
"ultra-liberal theory of Christianity" and then joining the
Roman Catholic Church 4 ^ — no small paradox in itself!
Progress, which at the time was widely regarded as something
always and necessarily good, 4 * certainly appeared to be a
key element in Newman's theory of development. "There is
something imposing in the idea of a revelation growing and
enlarging," notes Mozley. He continues: "The idea of a
fixed settled Revelation . . . does not satisfy ... so
well as the idea of its substantially growing up to the
present day." 4 ^ Mozley' s comment is as relevant to the
discussion of continuing revelation as it is to the question
of the intellectual climate of Newman's day.
Moberly in his turn accused Newman of caving in to "the
pressure of the fertile thought, the many theories of the
present age." 4 ^ This "fertile thought" Moberly equates with
infidelity. He asserts that Newman's mind was "ready to
take up a hint from a modern philosopher and spin it into a
bridge to pass the chasm that separates popery from
primitive Christianity." 44 Moberly does not name the modern
philosopher to whom he here refers, but we can safely assume
he has Hegel in mind. As Chadwick points out, it is not
surprising that Newman was interpreted along such lines.
After all, the word "development," which Newman chose to use
in connection with his theory, was typical of the
terminology of the philosophies of history, religion, and
science which were influential in Newman's day. ^
Newman's seemingly liberal theory of development is one
aspect of the "paradox of progress"; his personal anti-
liberalism is the other. Robert Pattison has demonstrated
that Newman was "the uncontaminated antagonist of everything
modern," who despised above all else the "anti-dogmatic
principle" of the liberalism of modern culture. ° Newman's
early work on the Arians of the fourth century led him to
the conviction that Arius was the first person to infect the
Church with "liberal apostasy," an infection from which the
Church has never since been totally free. 47 Led by this
conviction, Newman carried out in his writings "the most
uncompromising condemnation of modern civilization yet
attempted." 48 He was undeniably a man devoid of liberal
Chadwick adds that Newman was never one to believe in
progress, religious or secular. 9 As a result he greatly
distrusted the new "science of history," along with its
claim that history is to be understood "as a series of
phenomena, produced by causes and susceptible of
•explanation.'"- 50 Newman thought of himself primarily as a
historian, but he wanted nothing to do with the "notorious
principles" of the "new" history of his age. 5 *
So what is the solution to the paradox of Newman and
progress? I believe Chadwick is close when he writes,
concerning the Essay t "The line of thought, the expression
of ideas, the use of analogies, the form and argument were
Newman's, original to him, individual, stamped with the
impress of that unusual cast of mind." 52 The problem of how
to account for religious change was typical of Newman's
age. However, the solution Newman offered to that problem,
in his "theory of development," was not a product of the
age, any more than Newman himself was a product of that
age. Newman's theory of development was rather the highly
idiosyncratic product of a most unconventional mind. The
fact that he used the word "development" is only
coincidental and must not be overstressed. Newman did not
choose it because it was a catchword of the intellectual
climate of his day, but rather because (for some reason
known only to Newman) he thought the word "development"
adequately or accurately described the phenomenon he was
trying to explain.
It was noted at the conclusion of Chapter Two of this
thesis that the examination of three important problems with
Newman's "theory of development" was being postponed until a
later time. That time has now arrived.
SOME PROBLEMS WITH NEWMAN'S THEORY
Three significant problems concerning Newman's attempt
to articulate a theory of the development of doctrine , which
arise in his university sermon on developments and carry
over into the Essay on Development / are: the notion of the
"original idea" of Christianity; the question of the
teleological implications of the theory; and the issue of
whether Newman's theory of development implies or requires a
corresponding theory of continuing revelation. These
problems will now be examined with fuller attention than
they have thus far received.
Development Fro« What; The Question of the
"Original Idea" of Christianity
As noted in Chapter Two, in the course of his sermon on
developments Newman asserts that there is a single , great/
original idea that corresponds with Christianity, an idea
which cannot be adequately stated or fully known. 1 It is
from the seed of that original idea that Christian doctrinal
developments grow. This same notion of Christianity's
"original idea" carries over into the Essay .
Newman begins the second chapter of the Essay by
describing Christianity as a "fact" which "impresses an idea
of itself on our minds. "^ This idea which the fact of
Christianity impresses on our minds is at the outset
unitary. However, that single idea "will in course of time
expand into a multitude of ideas, and aspects of ideas,
connected and harmonious with one another. "^ Thus the
original idea of Christianity gives birth to further ideas;
it grows and develops. This "special" idea is so deep and
rich that it "cannot be fully understood at once"; rather it
becomes "more and more clearly expressed" with the passing
of time. He notes with disapproval that an attempt is
sometimes made "to determine the 'leading idea,' as it has
been called, of Christianity," to identify explicitly "its
one idea. "^ Newman emphatically denies the possibility of
so identifying or determining that essential idea of
Christianity: "such a task is beyond us." 6
Despite his unwillingness, or inability, in both the
sermon and the Essay , to state forthrightly the content of
the central idea of Christianity, Newman does believe that
the central aspect , or component, of that idea can be
known. He writes: "I should myself call the Incarnation
the central aspect of Christianity, ... [b]ut one aspect
of Revelation must not be allowed to exclude or to obscure
another." 7 Newman holds the Incarnation to be the central
aspect of the idea of Christianity because, he maintains,
three other key "aspects" ("the sacramental, the
hierarchical, and the ascetic") all "take their rise" from
the Incarnation." It is interesting to note that, while
working on revisions, Newman made the following notation in
the margin of his copy of the 1845 edition of the Essay ;
"Surely the leading idea of the Gospel is the Redemption 'Xt
crucif ied . ' "" Perhaps, deep down, Newman did think the
leading idea of Christianity could be identified? Maybe so-
but we should be careful not to base too much on a scribbled
note that Newman thought no one but himself would ever
read. In his published writings on development, he is
consistent in his denial of the possibility of knowing or
articlulating Christianity's essential idea, just as he is
consistent in his assertion that such an idea truly exists.
Newman's first generation of Anglican critics are
partly, although not wholly, justified in their critique of
Newman's notion of the original idea of Christianity. Their
claim (against Newman) that Christianity came into the world
as an institution rather than an idea, is based on a
misreading of Newman. Newman does not say that Christianity
"came into the world" as an idea. On the contrary, he is
careful to say that Christianity came into the world as a
" fact " — a fact which "impresses an idea of itself on our
minds. "^ Jesus Christ and the church he founded are facts
in the world's history; it is via those facts that
Christianity came into the world. We seek to understand and
analyze the fact of Christianity by means of the idea which
it impresses on our minds, but the fact, not the idea, comes
On the other hand, the Anglican critics were justified
in their complaint that it is not intellectually fair for
Newman to base his entire theory of development on the
assertion that there is an original, single idea of
Christianity out of which all subsequent developments grow,
when he is unable to say anything concrete about the content
of that idea. Newman's approach amounts to a tease. If he
is unable to say something more direct about the foundation
of his theory of development, he is obligated, if he wants
to be intellectually honest, to find another foundation.
One of the most questionable aspects of Newman's notion
of the development of Christian doctrine from a single idea
is the very frequent use of organic analogies by which he
attempts to demonstrate that notion. In one place he
compares this process to the growth of a baby into a youth,
in another to the growth of a bird from an egg. 11 Thus,
Newman claims that the process by which the dogmatic
system of the nineteenth-century Roman Catholic Church
developed from the original idea of Christianity is like the
maturation process in animals: from embryo to child to
adult, many changes are noticeable, but still it is
essentially the same animal.
In a context unrelated to Newman, Robert Wilken has
correctly pointed out that the "Christian theological
tradition did not develop out of a single original idea like
the growth of a plant from a seed." The reason for this is
that the "organic metaphor does not sit easily with
historical experience. Ideas and institutions take shape as
they interact with forces outside of themselves as well as
from internal logic or entelechy . " 12 Christian doctrine has
grown in fits and starts , often in reaction to the social
and philosophical milieu in which it has found itself. It
has experienced lengthy periods of stagnation and even decay
which do not square with a notion of steady, ever-increasing
growth. Thus, contrary to Newman's analysis, the
development of Christian doctrine from a single idea cannot
accurately be compared to the gradual growth and maturation
of a living thing; the analogy between organic and
historical growth simply does not hold.
Development To What: The Teleoloqical Question
The issue of concern at this point is whether or not
the process of doctrinal development, as conceived by
Newman, reaches some definite conclusion. Does the time
ever arrive when a doctrine can be said to be "fully
This question was raised earlier, in the context of
Newman's sermon on developments. The sermon was found to be
contradictory in regard to the issue of teleology. J In
some instances Newman seems to say that the process of
doctrinal development does come to an end, in other places
just the opposite: that the process goes on for ever. An
examination of the Essay leads to the same conclusion; in
the Essay , as in the sermon, Newman's teleology is
On the one hand, Newman speaks of doctrines reaching
"their full elucidation"; of their growing up into a "body
of thought"; of their arriving at their "legitimate
results." 14 Elsewhere he says that developments "terminate"
in an idea's "exact and complete delineation. " -^ Phrases
such as these indicate a process which comes to a definite
conclusion. Newman also refers to the church's official
definition of a dogma as a termination. 16 At several points
in the Essay Newman attempts to demonstrate that his own
theory is in basic agreement with the thought of Butler.
Chadwick aptly notes that such is not the case in this
instance: "For Butler 'development' means progress in
theology. For Newman 'development' means progress in
theology until the results become binding upon the belief of
Christians," 17 which occurs when a dogma has been officially
defined by Rome. Thus, there is significant evidence in the
Essay that Newman does hold that the process of doctrinal
development comes to a definite end.
But the evidence supporting the opposite conclusion (an
unending process of development) is just as significant.
For instance, in the Introduction to the Essay Newman writes
that the "variations" in Christianity "manifest themselves
. . . by a visible growth which has persevered up to this
time without any sign of its coming to an end." 10 And
later, in the body of the Essay , he says that we "find
ourselves unable to fix an historical point at which the
growth of doctrine ceased, and the rule of faith was once
for all settled. Not on the day of Pentecost, ... not on
the death of the last Apostle, ... [n]ot in the Creed. "^
These two quotations clearly imply that doctrinal
development is an ongoing, never ending process — in direct
contradiction to the statements noted in the preceding
Oddly enough, this teleological inconsistency is not
something for which Newman's early Anglican critics faulted
him. If they noticed it, they must have decided to draw
their battle-lines elsewhere; the issue simply does not
arise in their published reactions to the Essay .
The problem with Newman's self-contradiction is that it
weakens the credibility of his overall argument for the
theory of development. The reader of theological treatises
rightly expects the absence of obvious inconsistencies, but
in regard to teleology such inconsistencies are present in
both Newman's sermon and Essay . His argument would have
been strengthened if he had simply decided this issue one
way or the other, and made the strongest case possible in
support of that position. Instead he argues, at different
times, in favor of both sides of the question. The critique
that the Essay reads more like a work of apologetics than
systematics is relevant once again.
The Question of New or Ongoing Revelation
As noted in the previous chapter, one of the most
strenuous criticisms made by the first Anglican readers of
the Essay was that its theory of development either
advocated, or required, a parallel theory of new or
continuing revelation. Those readers argued that the
traditional Christian understanding of the finality of
revelation could not be held in conjunction with Newman's
theory of development.
Newman undeniably holds that there are new doctrines,
and that the Spirit guides the church into the defining of
new dogmas. An essay on the development of doctrine would
be pointless if doctrine did not change. However, doctrine
and dogma are not the same as revelation . The two concepts
are separable, and it is conceivable for doctrine to change
without any corresponding change in revelation. Perhaps
doctrine is changing because it is growing closer to the
truth of the underlying revelation ("development"), or
perhaps it is drawing farther away from that revelation
("corruption"). In either case, the fact of a change in
doctrine says nothing in itself about the state of
revelation. Therefore, the question of interest now is
whether Newman, against the longstanding belief of the
Christian theological tradition, holds that not only
doctrine, but also revelation, is mutable.
Based on the evidence of the Essay , the answer to that
question would seem to be that Newman's theory does indeed
include a notion of new or continuing revelation, even if he
occasionally gives lip service to the more traditional
view. At one point in the Essay Newman refers to "that body
of teaching which is offered to all Christians" which is
partly "a comment, partly an addition upon the articles of
the Creed." 20 The implication is that the creeds are
insufficient or incomplete statements of Christian
revelation. Similarly, Newman writes that God "gave the
Creed once for all in the beginning, yet blesses its growth
still, and provides for its increase." 21 In what meaningful
sense can that which is "given once for all" be said also to
"grow and increase"? The two concepts would appear to be
mutually exclusive. Furthermore, Newman states that, if we
suppose the natural order to have been "once broken by the
introduction of a revelation, the continuance of that
revelation is but a question of degree." 22 A revelation
once given will necessarily be ongoing or continuous? On
the contrary—the necessary connection between those two
notions of revelation (once-given and continuing) is not
apparent. Finally, Newman also describes the process of
revelation as being "various, complex, progressive, and
supplemental of itself." 2 ^ Revelation changes.
An instance of Newman's acknowledging the more
traditional understanding is his claim that "the holy
Apostles would without words know all the truths concerning
the high doctrines of theology, which controversialists
after them have piously and charitably reduced to formulae,
and developed through argument." 24 Commenting on this
passage of the Essay , Chadwick writes that Newman's
assertion contradicts both the "general argument" of the
rest of his theory of development, and "every sane
historical inquiry." 25 The claim that the apostles knew
"without words" such "truths" as papal primacy, the
Immaculate Conception, and transubstantiation, is a lapse of
historical integrity which is rare for Newman. It almost
seems that Newman included this passage in a half-hearted
attempt to demonstrate his awareness of the traditional
Christian assumption about revelation.
Two authors who have come to Newman's defense in regard
to this problem of new or ongoing revelation are Ian Ker and
Hugo Meynell. Ker does so (in a response to Nicholas Lash)
by distinguishing between "the faith" and "the rule of
faith." All of the Christian revelation was "revealed in
essence to the apostles, . . . finally and completely."
This Ker refers to as "the faith." On the other hand there
is "the rule of faith," which is "not settled." Revelation,
or "the faith," was "consummated at the 'end of our Lord's
ministry'; and yet the implications, the details, the
possibilities of that revelation [i.e. 'the rule of faith']
had still to be worked out in doctrine and practice." 25
Thus, in Ker's analysis, the faith, or revelation, is given
once-for-all and does not change; the rule of faith, which
corresponds with doctrine and practice, does change.
However, this analysis does not help Newman out of his bind,
because, in the Essay , both doctrine (the rule of faith) and
revelation (the faith) are portrayed as entities which grow
and change. Ker may hold that revelation, or "the faith,"
is immutable, but the Essay does not support the contention
that Newman would concur with him.
Meynell' s attempt, which consists in drawing an analogy
between chemistry and theology, is equally unconvincing.
Referring to the Essay , Chadwick had posed the question,
"[l]n what meaningful sense may it be asserted that these
new doctrines are not 'new revelation*?"^ 7 Meynell
responds, "It may be asserted meaningfully in the sense
that, while the new doctrines may not be logically derivable
from the statements in Scripture, they may be arrived at by
putting questions about the revelation given in Scripture,
and testing one's answers in relation to it," the way a
chemist puts questions and tests answers in the process of
conducting research." The weakness of this argument, as is
so often the case with argument from analogy, is the lack of
any necessary connection between the two things being
compared. Why must there be any connection between chemical
discovery and Christian revelation? What makes sense for
one area of inquiry may well be irrelevant in the other.
Meynell recognizes this weakness, when he notes that his
readers "might well accept the account given here, and yet
maintain that natural science represents a proper use, Roman
Catholic doctrinal development an abuse, of the intellectual
, , 9Q
operations described.^ 3 Precisely so.
The last word on this subject goes to Lash, who
accurately assesses the danger Newman created for himself
with the problem of ongoing revelation.
It is not difficult to point out the weaknesses
and inconsistencies in [Newman's] argument, and to show
that, as a result of his failure rigorously to maintain
his own insistence on the unity of revelation, much of
the argument in the Essay is difficult to reconcile
with any coherent defense (other than a thorough-going
fideism such as he never contemplated) of the claim
that "revelation closed with the death of the last
Thus, in the case of the three particular problems
which have been the focus of this chapter, Newman has been
found to lack scholarly integrity and consistency. Lash's
earlier suggestion, that Newman's primary purpose was
apologetic rather than systematic, seems relevant once
The preceding analysis has shown Newman's attempt to
formulate a "theory of development" to be significantly
flawed. As Chadwick notes, Newman himself was aware of some
of those flaws. For example, Newman sometimes claimed that
the Essay was more a philosophical speculation than a real
work of theology. * And at one point in his Apologia , Newman
confessed, "I doubt not at all that I made many mistakes" in
the Essay . ^ He furthermore admitted that the Essay
contained a number of "obscure" and "guestionable"
statements. ^ How do we account for the fact that a book
containing obvious inconsistencies has come to exert such a
great influence? It was stated at the outset that Newman's
Essay has been widely viewed as the inevitable starting
point of any examination of the development of doctrine.
Why is this so? Does the book still deserve such status?
Chadwick suggests that the Essay 's contribution to
Roman Catholic doctrine was that it advocated "historical
development" without at the same time advocating "liberal
philosophies of development." The Essay could therefore
function as a vehicle by which a "historical consciousness"
could enter the Roman Catholic Church. 4 In other words, the
Essay made historical awareness and sensitivity acceptable
to some Roman Catholics, whereas the historical speculations
of thinkers like Bauer and Harnack, based as they were on
"liberal philosophies of development," were unacceptable.
Perhaps this contribution is one reason for the Essay 's
abiding influence in Roman Catholic theological circles.
Lash identifies some other possible explanations for
the Essay ' s abiding influence. For instance, the Essay came
to be a focus of much attention after the outbreak of the
"modernist" crisis. Between 1907 and the end of the Second
World War, many theologians were concerned to discover
whether Newman's notion of development was "modernist."
This debate kept interest in the Essay alive for more than
forty years. ^ It is interesting to note that it was more
the agenda of those involved in the "modernist" crisis, than
Newman's own ideas, which resulted in his popularity at
Lash also notes that the "methodological revolution"
which took place in France in the 1950 's, known as la
nouvelle theoloqie , "with its abandonment of neo-scholastic
categories in favour of a more concrete, historical
approach, and the recovery of a sense of 'living tradition,'
led to an increasing interest in Newman." 6 He cites de
Lubac and Congar as examples of this phenomenon. However,
this "renewed interest in Newman's Essay led to an
increasing tendency to isolate those features of his
argument which were congenial to the concerns" of the late
1950 'S; "and to refer to the resulting oversimplified
restatements as 'Newman's theory of development.'" 7 The
danger to which Lash is here referring is that, when one
takes what one needs from Newman's notion of development and
leaves the rest, the result can only be a distorted picture
of Newman's overall argument. To be critically fair to
Newman's Essay , one must consider it as a whole, without
projecting one's own theological agenda onto it.
Based on some remarks Newman makes in his Introduction
to the Essay , we can conclude that his own hope for the book
was that, if it should prove to have an abiding influence,
the primary reason would be its usefulness . After
considering two traditional "theories" which have been
offered to account for religious change, Newman rejects them
both precisely on the grounds of their lack of usefulness.
The first of those is the " dictum of Vincent of Lerins,"
which maintains that "Christianity is what has been held
always, everywhere, and by all." According to Newman, the
difficulty with the Vincentian Canon "lies in applying it in
particular cases. The rule is more serviceable in
determining what is not, than what is Christianity. . . . "°
The second traditional explanation is the Disciplina Arcani ,
which holds that the "doctrines which are associated with
the later ages of the Church were really in the Church from
the first, but not publicly taught. ..." Once again, the
problem is lack of usefulness, or applicability. The
discipline "is no key to the whole difficulty, . . . because
the variations continue beyond the time when it is
conceivable that the discipline was in force. "^ Thus,
neither the Vincentian Canon nor the Disciplina Arcani can
account for all development.
Furthermore, Newman concludes his Introduction to the
Essay with the following challenge: "those who find fault
with the explanation here offered of [Christianity's]
historical phenomena will find it their duty to provide one
for themselves ." 10 My guess is that Newman would have liked
to have thought that, if his own explanation of development
was still being taken seriously at the end of the twentieth
century, the reason would be that no more useful explanation
of religious change had yet been offered.
But just how useful can a theory be which is founded on
an unknowable and ineffable "Idea," which contradicts itself
on several significant issues, and which gets sidetracked
with a number of unhelpful sub-theories? If it is indeed
the case that Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian
Doctrine helped ease a historical consciousness into the
Roman Catholic Church, perhaps we should leave its
accomplishment at that (and it is no small accomplishment),
and find another, sounder, starting point for our
contemporary examination of doctrinal development and
religious change. We need not uncritically assume that
Newman's Essay is still the "inevitable starting point for
an investigation of development of doctrine."
I am aware, in conclusion, that I have not taken up
Newman's challenge. I have found fault with his explanation
of Christianity's historical phenomena, without providing an
alternative explanation of my own.
1. Hugo A. Meynell, "Newman on Revelation and
Doctrinal Development," The Journal of Theological Studies ,
n.s. XXX/1 (April 1979): 138.
2. Owen Chadwick, From Bossuet to Newman , 2d ed .
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), xiii.
4. Chadwick, From Bossuet , 20.
5. Ibid., 26.
6. Ibid., 68-9. Newman considered but rejected the
notion of Disciplina Arcani as a viable explanation for
Christian doctrinal change; cf. John Henry Newman, An Essay
on the Development of Christian Doctrine , 6th ed . , with a
Foreword by Ian Ker (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre
Dame Press, 1989), 27-9. (The Essay was first published in
1845; the 6th ed . , used here, is a reprint of the 3d ed . of
7. Chadwick, From Bossuet , 71.
8. Newman, Essay , 30, my emphasis.
9. The letter from Newman to Wilberforce was written
on December 11, 1853; the emphasis is Newman's. Quoted in
David Newsome, The Parting of Friends: The Wilberforces and
Henry Manning (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), 385.
1. Lash, Newman , 61. Lash cites the examples of Henry
F. Davis, Timothy C. Potts, and Jean Stern.
3, One key element of the Essay which is lacking in
the sermon is the role of authority in the process of
development. Newman intentionally left this topic out of
the sermon: "Nor am I here in any way concerned with the
question, who is the legitimate framer and judge of these
dogmatic inferences under the Gospel, or if there be any.
Whether the Church is infallible, or the individual, or the
first ages, or none of these, is not the point here, but the
theory of developments itself." John Henry Newman, Newman ' s
University Sermons , with an Introduction by D. M. MacKinnon
and J. D. Holmes (London: SPCK, 1970), 319-20. This book
is a reprint of the 3d ed. of 1871; Newman's Oxford
University Sermons were first published as a collection in
1843. On the role of authority in the Essay , see p. 19,
.4. Newman, Sermons , 320, note 2; emphasis in original.
6. Ibid., e.g., 328, 329, 331, 332, 334.
7. Ibid., 323.
8. Ibid., 331.
9. Ibid., 331-2.
10. Ibid., 329, emphasis added.
12. Ibid., 335.
14. I an indebted to Lash for the portions of Newman's
sermon cited in this paragraph. Cf. his discussion in
Newman , 75-9.
15. Newman, Sermons , 316.
16. Ibid., 317.
17. Ibid., 332.
18. Newman, Essay , 30.
19. Ibid., 9.
20. Ibid., 5; emphasis added.
21. Ibid., 200; see also 438, 440-1, 445.
22. John Henry Newman, Apologia pro Vita Sua , ed .
A. Dwight Culler (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., Riverside
Editions, 1956), 183; see also 217, 222. (The Apologia was
first published In 1864.)
23. Quoted in Lash, Newman , 16; see also 10, 11.
24. Chadwick, From Bossuet , 155.
25. Lash, Newman , 193, note 12; cf. 139.
26. Meynell, "Newman on Revelation," 139.
27. Newman, Essay , 29-30; emphasis Newman's.
28. Lash, Newman , 79.
29. Ibid., 81.
30. Ibid., 18.
32. Newman, Essay , 94.
33. Ibid., 107
34. Ibid., 63.
35. Ibid., 78.
37. Ibid., 153-5.
38. Ibid., 89.
1. Stephen Prickett, "Coleridge, Newman, and
F. D. Maurice: Development of Doctrine and Growth of the
Mind," Theology LXXVI/637 (July 1973): 341.
2. See Chadwick, From Bossuet , 169.
5. Ibid., 182.
6. Ibid., 170.
7. Ibid., 171.
8. Ibid., 172.
9. Ibid., 183.
10. J. B. Mozley, The Theory of Development: A
Criticism of Dr. Newman's Essay on the Development of
Christian Doctrine (New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., 1879),
1. This book was first printed in The Christian
Remembrancer , January 1847. The nine authors Mozley
mentions are George Moberly, William Palmer, William Allies,
F. D. Maurice, Healy Thompson, J. Spencer Northcote, William
J. Irons, "A Quondam Disciple" (John Charles Abraham), and
11. Charles Gore, The Holy Spirit and the Church (New
York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1924), 209. Cf. Chadwick,
From Bossuet , 96; Lash, Newman , 192, note 10.
12. Mozley, Theory , 19.
13. See Prickett, "Coleridge, Newman," 342. It is
worth noting that Maurice is one of the few (perhaps the
only) of the Anglican critics who frequently praised Newman,
and did not call into question Newman's sincerity. "It
seems to me that widely as Mr. Newman's present conclusions
are distant from those he once adopted, he has not arrived
at them by any tortuous or illegitimate process. ... I
can see nothing in it which would induce me to disparage the
sincerity of the mind which has passed through it. Nor am I
much influenced by documents which have been brought forward
to prove that Mr. Newman was in heart and feeling a Romanist
while he adhered to our communion. Chronology in the
history of mental conflicts is most uncertain. . . "
F. D. Maurice, The Epistle to the Hebrews, with a Preface
Containing a Review of Mr. Newman's Theory of Development
(London: John W. Parker, 1846), cxxvii-cxxviii .
14. Mozley, Theory , 31, emphasis added.
15. Ibid., 33.
16. Ibid., 34.
17. Ibid., 36.
18. Ibid., 24.
19. Ibid., 27.
20. Ibid., 28-9.
21. Cf. Lash, Newman, 137.
22. Mozley, Theory , 221.
23. Maurice, Hebrews , xxi, xlviii-xlix.
24. John Charles Abraham, Mithridatest Or,
Mr. Newman's Essay on Development its own Confutation
(London: W. J. Cleaver, 1846), 29-30.
25. George Moberly, The Sayings of the Great Forty
Days between the Resurrection and Ascension, Regarded as the
Outlines of the Kingdom of God; in Five Discourses, with an
Examination of Mr. Newman's Theory of Development
(Philadelphia: H. Hooker, 1850), 207.
26. Mozley, Theory , 223.
27. W. J. Irons, The Theory of Development Examined,
with Reference Specially to Mr. Newman's Essay, and to the
Rule of St. Vincent of Lerins (London: Francis & John
Rivington, 1846), 86, emphasis added.
28. Mozley, Theory , 144.
29. Ibid., 146.
30. Moberly, Sayings , 213.
31. Ibid., 215.
32. Ibid., 224.
33. Mozley, Theory , 219.
34. Irons, Theory , 44.
35. See above, p. 17; cf. Lash, Newman , 18.
36. Ibid., 119.
37. Chadwick, From Bossuet , 164.
38. Prickett, "Coleridge, Newman," 342.
39. Cf. Gore, Holy Spirit , 209 f.
40. Mozley, Theory , 226; cf. Chadwick, From Bossuet ,
96-7. Chadwick's Chapter 5, "Newman and the Philosophy of
Evolution," is thorough and convincing on the topic of
Newman and the paradox of progress.
41. See Gore, Holy Spirit , 220.
42. Mozley, Theory , 157-8.
43. Moberly, Sayings , 203.
44. Ibid., 229.
45. Chadwick, From Bossuet , 98.
46. Robert Pattison, The Great Dissent; John Henry
Newman and the Liberal Heresy (Oxford: Oxford University-
Press, 1991), vi.
48 . Ibid. , vii .
49. Chadwick, From Bossuet , 97-8.
50. Ibid., 101.
52. Ibid., 118.
1. See above, p. 7.
2. Newman, Essay , 55.
4. Ibid., 56.
5. Ibid., 35.
7. Ibid. , 36.
9. Quoted in Lash, Newman , 199, note 11. The copy of
the Essay is in the archives of the Birmingham Oratory.
10. See above, and also Newman, Essay , 55.
11. Newman, Essay , 171-4.
12. Robert W. Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw
Them (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), 205.
13. See above, p. 10.
14. Newman, Essay , 30, 38, 75.
15. Ibid., 52. Newman is speaking here of what he
calls "metaphysical developments," which he holds to be one
of the primary types of development undergone by Christian
16. Ibid., 122.
17. Chadwick, From Bossuet , 90.
18. Newman, Essay , 29.
19. Ibid., 68.
20. Ibid., 77. Newman is here quoting with approval
his earlier work, The Prophetical Office of the Church .
21. Ibid., 86.
22. Ibid., 85.
23. Ibid., 382. Once again, Newman is quoting with
approbation his own previous work, in this case, Essays
Critical and Historical , vol. 2.
24. Ibid., 191-2.
25. Chadwick, From Bossuet , 154.
26. Ian T. Ker, "Newman's Theory: Development or
Continuing Revelation?" in Newman and Gladstone Centennial
Essays , ed . James B. Bastable (Dublin: Veritas
Publications, 1978), 155.
27. Chadwick, From Bossuet , 195.
28. Meynell, "Newman on Revelation," 150; emphasis in
29. Ibid., note 2.
30. Lash, Newman , 100.
1. Chadwick, From Bossuet , 185.
2. Quoted in ibid., 186.
3. See ibid., 187.
4. Ibid., 195.
5. See Lash, Newman , 147-50.
6. Ibid., 153.
7. Ibid., 154.
8. Newman, Essay , 10-11. The "Vincentian Canon" was a
popular tool with the Tractarians. Newman in his Anglican
period, Keble, and others, frequently made use of the Canon
in their attempts to demonstrate the substantial identity of
the Church of England with the Church of the apostolic and
9. Ibid., 27, 29.
.10. Ibid., 31.
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